Dina Yacoubagha is waiting for new about family who remain unaccounted for or trapped after an earthquake rocked Syria.
Rescue teams carry the body of a victim from a destroyed building on Tuesday in Aleppo, Syria. Rescuers raced Tuesday to find survivors in the rubble of thousands of buildings brought down by a powerful earthquake and multiple aftershocks that struck eastern Turkey and neighboring Syria. Credit: Omar Sanadiki / AP

When Bangor City Councilor Dina Yacoubagha received a text from her sister in Syria on Sunday evening at what was 4:30 a.m. Syrian time, she knew something wasn’t right.

The text said a powerful earthquake was rocking Yacoubagha’s hometown in northwest Syria and her family was leaving their apartment building in case it crumbled.

Dina Yacoubagha is waiting for new about family who remain unaccounted for or trapped after an earthquake rocked Syria.
Dina Yacoubagha is seen in this Oct. 8, 2020, file photo. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“She said it was like nothing they’ve felt before and they knew it was very serious,” Yacoubagha  said. “Thinking back on her text, I know she sent it because they were afraid they wouldn’t make it.”

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake and subsequent aftershocks shook a large swath of northwestern Syria — a country already ravaged by a 12-year civil war and financial hardship that had weakened infrastructure — and southeastern Turkey early Monday morning.

The quakes toppled buildings, killing more than 5,000 people as of Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams search for people who are trapped under the rubble in freezing temperatures and poor weather.

“I was terrified for every one of my family members and wondering if they’re safe,” she said. “I know people are struggling in Syria. The financial situation is awful and this is something my family and the country doesn’t need.”

Yacoubagha’s hometown of Jableh on the northwest coast of Syria was hit hard by the earthquake, she said. Her family, friends and loved ones are scattered between Jableh and Latakia, another coastal city about 16 miles north of Jableh.

“Today, our hometown looks like a war zone,” she said. “We feel so helpless and speechless. There is nothing any of us can do.”

Yacoubagha first came to the United States 26 years ago when she was 26 years old. She and her husband first settled in Texas before moving to Canada in 2001 for a few years. In 2006, the family moved to Bangor, where they’ve remained.

Yacoubagha, a licensed social worker, was first elected to the Bangor City Council in 2021.

Yacoubagha’s immediate family is “shaken to their core,” but safe, including her sister, brother-in-law and their children, but other loved ones were waiting to be rescued or were unaccounted for as of Monday night.

This includes her second cousin and his family, who were trapped when their apartment building collapsed in the earthquake.

“They’re waiting to be freed, and we don’t don’t know if they’re going to make it,” she said. “Not knowing what will happen to our family members, neighbors and friends is the hardest part. I know in the next 48 hours, we’ll hear more and more bad news and that scares me. I’m dreading it.”

Among the more than 5,000 dead across Syria and Turkey are Yacoubagha’s former teacher and a classmate and his family, who lived in the same apartment building as her second cousin.

“I’m fortunate that my immediate family is safe physically, but I know the emotional and mental impact of this disaster isn’t going to go away any time soon,” she said. “Losing loved ones in collapsed buildings is going to be a constant reminder of this tragedy.”

As rescue efforts continue, Yacoubagha called for people to keep Syrians affected by the natural disaster in their thoughts and prayers. She also hopes to see the international community offer equal aid to Syria and Turkey.

“This is a humanitarian crisis and people in Syria deserve prayers and support just like Turkey,” she said.

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...